Saturday, November 21, 2015
Sunday, November 15, 2015
On October 11, 2014, according to Islamic State-affiliated Twitter accounts a woman going by the name Ahlam al-Nasr was married in the courthouse of Raqqa, Syria, to Abu Usama al-Gharib, a Vienna-born jihadi close to the movement’s leadership. ISIS social media rarely make marriage announcements, but al-Nasr and al-Gharib are a jihadi power couple. Al-Gharib is a veteran propagandist, initially for Al Qaeda and now for ISIS.
His bride is a burgeoning literary celebrity, better known as “the Poetess of the Islamic State.” Her first book of verse, “The Blaze of Truth,” was published online last summer and quickly circulated among militant networks. Sung recitations of her work, performed a cappella, in accordance with ISIS’s prohibition on instrumental music, are easy to find on YouTube. “The Blaze of Truth” consists of a hundred and seven poems in Arabic—elegies to mujahideen, laments for prisoners, victory odes, and short poems that were originally tweets. Almost all the poems are written in monorhyme—one rhyme for what is sometimes many dozens of lines of verse—and classical Arabic metres.
By Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel
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Thursday, November 12, 2015
We are accustomed to equating literature and architecture—a stanza, the basic unit of poetry, is, after all, a “room” in Italian. But in the case of the edifices built to hold books, this relationship is more intimate, not just linguistic or metaphoric but concrete (often marble). If a stanza is a room for words on the page, a library is a series of rooms for words—and the books that hold them—on the ground. And ground is often disputed, desecrated, possessed and dispossessed. It is always political: just as it is the site for the building and projecting of knowledge, it is often the site of its destruction as well. Consider three examples:
The Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany, opened in 1779 as a library and public museum, one of Europe’s earliest. Along with the art collections of the Hessian landgraves, it held more than 100,000 books. The Fridericianum’s construction was funded by Friedrich II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, who made his fortune by selling local mercenaries to Great Britain to fight in the American Revolution. After briefly becoming a parliamentary building under Napoléon’s brother Jérôme, then King of Westphalia and Kassel, the Fridericianum was returned to its original function; Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm would work at the library there. The museum’s collections were relocated to Berlin under Prussian rule, and by the early twentieth century the building became a state library only. Thus marks some of the nascent stages of Fridericianum’s building of knowledge, but burning would come.
On May 19, 1933, approximately 2,000 books were burned on Friedrichsplatz, reportedly attended to by enormous crowds. The bonfire was held in conjunction with book burnings in university towns across the country, a nation-wide “Action Against the Un-German Spirit,” as it was termed, that aimed to rid Germany of “Jewish intellectualism.” Nearly a decade later, in 1941, the Fridericianum—still a library at the time—caught fire during the Allied bombing raids that flattened Kassel. In images taken after the bombing, we notice not just the thousands of burned volumes leafing out palely from the dark rubble, but the now naked Neoclassical armature of the building’s columns; indeed, the eighteenth-century structure was designed in the “spirit of the Enlightenment” by Huguenot architect Simon Louis du Ry.
The main architectural embodiment of that spirit, and of the classical ideal more generally, was, of course, the Parthenon in Greece. Built during the rule of Pericles in Athens between 447 and 432 BC, the temple was dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, civilization, justice, and war, among other attributes. And the Parthenon would become the architectural model that has most often inspired the shape of Western public institutions’ edifices of knowledge, among them libraries, museums, universities, government buildings, courts, and banks. Though built to shelter a monumental gold-and-ivory statue of Athena, the Parthenon would also house the city’s treasury. Indeed, the temple was funded by taxes derived from both the Athens treasury and tribute from cities across the Aegean after the Athenian victories in the Persian Wars (Plutarch famously offers a story about Pericles wasting allies’ money on “sacred buildings”). Transformed into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire, and partially destroyed and rebuilt many times in the interim, the deconsecrated Parthenon of the modern period became an emblem of Western cultural hegemony, not exclusively democratic.
Text by Pierre Bal-Blanc, Marina Fokidis, Quinn Latimer, Yorgos Makris, Marta Minujín
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
We must start speaking about workers again, with programmes and projects that concern them directly, existentially.
Mario Tronti, ‘Politics at Work’, 2008
In her book The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt distinguishes labour from work. While work is the production of things that may be more enduring than the life of its producer (like a pot or a poem), labour is the sheer unending business of life reproduction: cooking, cleaning, giving birth, raising kids, taking care of the household. According to Arendt, labour is merely a performative activity confined within the space of the house that does not leave anything material behind. With the rise of industrialisation and the increasing division of labour, the distinction between labour and work does not exist anymore and the subjectivity of animal laborans becomes the fundamental datum of modern society. Within modernity labour no longer addresses a specific sphere of the human condition but the totality of life, since under capitalism it is life as bios that is put to work and made productive. As Karl Marx wrote in a crucial passage of Das Kapital ‘labour power is the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality, of a human being’. This means that what is at stake in the concept of labour is not the production of things, but the production of the most crucial commodity within a capitalistic economy: subjectivity. Production of subjectivity becomes the fundamental goal of a capitalistic economy.
In this sense it is impossible to define the modern city and its architecture without understanding it through the lens of labour. And yet until today, with very few notable exceptions, very little has been written on the relationship between labour and architecture. While issues such as public space, politics, capitalism, neoliberalism and the commodification of the built environment are widely discussed, labour has rarely been confronted by the culture of architecture. The reason for this lack of discussion may be the ubiquity of labour itself as both spatial and social condition of our life. The symposium gathers for the first time a group of researchers who will attempt to read the relationship between labour and architecture in different contexts, from the intimacy of domestic space to the abstraction of post-industrial forms of production, to the role of the architect as producer. Rather than offering a comprehensive historical mapping, the symposium will offer critical insights towards a new understanding of architecture through the concept of labour.
- Pier Vittorio Aureli
A Symposium organised by Pier Vittorio Aureli and the PhD programme ‘City/Architecture’
Pier Vittorio Aureli, Fabrizio Ballabio, Peggy Deamer, Fabrizio Gallanti, Maria S. Giudici, Peer Ilner, Francesco Marullo, Andreas Rumpfhuber
13/11/2015, Architectural Association School of Architecture
Thursday, November 5, 2015
This design for a monument to popular sovereignty was produced by the French artist and designer Jean Jacques Lequeu (1757–1826) at the time of the French Revolution. After gaining a solid education as an architect and making a promising start to his career, Lequeu failed to channel his architectural and philosophical ideas into concrete projects that would ensure him fame. Lequeu was a man of his times in his faith in science and his religious eclecticism, but he was also a troubled visionary, known to be unorthodox and eccentric. He designed several projects that were inspired by the new revolutionary era, none of which he managed to complete. Lequeu’s semicircular design is dated, in the title above the design, June 24, 1793, and, in the lower right-hand corner, Messidor 9, Second Year of the Republic. In its efforts to eliminate traditional influences from French life, the French Revolution instituted a new calendar that featured a set of renamed months, divided into three ten-day weeks. “Messidor 9” refers to the ninth day of the month of Messidor, the first month of the summer, named after the Latin word messis, meaning harvest. Years were numbered starting with the proclamation of the French Republic in September 1792. Napoleon abolished this system and restored the Gregorian calendar with effect from January 1, 1806.
Monday, November 2, 2015
Each and every thing cuts wounds,
and neither of us has forgiven the other.
Hurting like you and hurtful,
I lived towards you.
Every touch augments
the pure, the spiritual touch;
we experience it as we age,
turned into coldest silence.